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click to enlarge Gwyneth Paltrow
  • Gwyneth Paltrow

The proliferation of film festivals, a phenomenon witnessed around the world during the last decade, has finally reached Vermont. Two new ventures are about to debut on the state’s cultural calendar, alongside existing annual cinematic extravaganzas in Burlington and Montpelier. In April, the Queen City’s free “Estrogen Fest” will focus on women’s issues. Two months later, the good folks of Manchester are going to host a late June event they hope could become a sort of Sundance East.

Northern New England may not offer the sun and surf of Cannes, but movies are, after all, largely an indoor art form requiring darkness. Hauke Auditorium at Champlain College will be the setting for Estrogen, which is actually the renamed, relocated, sophomore edition of the “Weekend of Women’s Film” presented at Burlington College in February, 2001.

Last year, 20 shorts and documentaries were screened. “This time, we’re also having live performance art, poetry, music and monologues,” explains organizer Alexis Holloway, who is hoping to raise about $10,000 to cover her costs. “And we intend to have more discussions.”

This is a thematic showcase, running April 19-21, for social concerns such as reproductive rights and body image. In Your Face Guerrilla Theater, from southern Vermont, will offer live dramatic presentations on relevant topics. Writer Alice Walker collaborated on Warrior Marks, a documentary about female genital mutilation. A feature entitled Girls Town is “a speak-out for survivors of physical and sexual violence,” says Holloway, whose 30-minute The Vagina Conspiracy unspooled at last year’s fest.

Let’s just hope her efforts don’t inspire anyone to launch a Testosterone Fest — mainstream fare offers quite enough violence, thank you.

Holloway, a 31-year-old Burlington resident, has two other new projects in progress. As a member of the five-person GroupSevenCinema collective, she is finishing Quantum Wave, an improvisational road movie shot with digital video. She’s also co-writing a screenplay about domestic abuse adapted from Dog Dreams, an unpublished novel by Anne Brown of Colchester.

About 100 miles due south, the Manchester Film Festival boasts a high-profile advisory board that includes the ubiquitous Ben Affleck, actor Fisher Stevens — producer of In the Bedroom — and Treat Williams, the lead earlier this month in a CBS mini-series entitled Guilty Hearts. The nonprofit, competitive fiesta will take place June 27-30 in four downtown venues that seat an estimated total of around 1000 people.

“We felt that Manchester was a prime setting for a festival,” says executive artistic director Alan Scott-Moncrieff, an Arlington painter, playwright and filmmaker who moved up from New York City in 1998. “It’s beautiful, and we’ve got recreation areas, the outlet stores and a lot of second homeowners from New York and Boston.”

Along with executive director Michael Charles Hill, who owns a Massachusetts indie distribution company, Scott-Moncrieff has “a number of industry contacts” — hence the heavy-hitters advising them. “We’ve spent two and a half years developing this,” explains the director, an Edinburgh native living the U.S. since 1987. “We are doing a prominent international film festival, not a regional film festival.”

To scout for selections, the two attended Robert Redford’s recent celluloid gala in Utah, placed ads in movie magazines and started putting together a 3500-name mailing list of writers, directors and producers who might want to premiere their creations in Vermont. The goal is to show about 20 features and 40 or 50 documentaries, shorts and music videos.

“00mph” — the two zeros refer to the binary numbers involved in digital video technology — is what they’re calling the festival’s schedule of workshops, lectures and demonstrations for aspiring filmmakers. A screenplay competition is still on the drawing board, as are plans for establishing a film school in the area.

Meanwhile, like the Estrogen Fest, Manchester is busily fundraising to make the motion-picture dream a reality. An April 6 benefit offers a sneak preview of Possession, based on A.S. Byatt’s 1990 Booker Prize-winning fantasy and slated for a limited release in major cities on June 7. Neil LaBute directs Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart (Erin Brockovich) and Jeremy Northam (Gosford Park) in a story that, according to the publicity blurb, follows “a pair of literary sleuths who unearth the amorous secret of two Victorian poets, only to find themselves falling under a passionate spell.” Kind of like Vermont cineastes falling for film festivals.

For info, call Estrogen Fest at 660-4848 and the Manchester Film Festival at 362-9960.

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